What I’ve Been Reading – The Best of 2008

Did I even read 10 books total this year? Answer: Barely.

As always, this spans from December 2007 through November 2008.

Fun HomeAlison Bechdel – Fun Home (2006)
Reviewed January 2008

This year’s graphic novel inclusion has a lot of ground to make up in order to be considered in the same league as last year’s Jimmy Corrigan, but Fun House was a legitimately good story – touching and raw and real. Best of all, it was the perfect tonic for a few breathless months of low reading output. (In other words, I should probably grab a graphic novel with my Christmas money to knock me out of these doldrums.)

HeatBill Buford – Heat (2006)
Reviewed November 2008

What began as curiosity after reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential turned into all out longing with Heat. I was a fan of cooking, but now I feel like I’m ready to become a critic – a paid columnist for Top Chef Times or a program director for Food Network. I mean, if either of those positions actually existed.

DeadwoodPete Dexter – Deadwood (1986)
Reviewed November 2008

Pete Dexter is the only repeat author from last year’s list, and there’s a good chance that next year could make it a three-peat. (Admittedly, the book I have wanted to read the past two years – Dexter’s Paris Trout, his award winning and most critically renowned book – has always been curiously absent from the sales tables at the South Dakota Festival of Books. Probably chance more than blacklisting – I always end up buying my books too late.)

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007Dave Eggers (editor) – The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 (2007)
Reviewed January 2008

I bought this because Conan O’Brien had a commencement speech included. It directed me to Fun House (an excerpt was also included) and led me to strike into the world of essays and short stories again (though only for a few weeks).

Free Darko Presents…Free Darko – The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac: Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today’s Game (2008)
Reviewed November 2008

I heart basketball, and I heart this book. It’s a brilliant combination of design and quality writing: one of those books that you’re proud to have read and proud to have displayed. Seriously. If you’re a basketball fan and you haven’t picked this up, you’re a moron, and you should have your NBA Season Ticket privileges revoked.

Fortress of SolitudeJonathan Lethem – Fortress of Solitude (2003)
Reviewed December 2007

I had forgotten all about this book until I went back through the books I’ve read. And that’s a shame, because this might qualify as the best novel I read all year. Now, I can’t hear about the gentrification of Brooklyn – or about music criticism – without thinking of this novel. I’d read it again if I wasn’t so far behind already.

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleHaruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1992)
Reviewed September/October 2008

Murakami was on my list of “Essentials,” back when I was paying attention to that sort of thing (so was the next book, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried) and I feel like I really accomplished something by finally reading it. And I say “finally” in two senses – it took me a while to pick it up, and once I did it took me two months to finish it.

The Things They CarriedTim O’Brien – The Things They Carried (1990)
Reviewed April 2008

I’m always surprised at how powerful Vietnam stories can be, no matter how many times it seems like I’ve read the same recount. O’Brien adds something different, however: the recollection of someone who may not be proud of what happened, of the ghosts still hanging over his head and of the difficulties in revealing the stories that he would just as soon forget. It’s the aftermath of war, the humanness of suffering and the agony of secrets, all rolled into one.

1 Dead in AtticChris Rose – 1 Dead in Attic (2007)
Reviewed May 2008

Speaking of suffering, if 1 Dead in Attic doesn’t get your blood boiling about the botched rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina, or about the inhumane living conditions, or about the massive loss – of both life and livelihood – than I don’t know if you’re human. It’s even more striking knowing that, for me, New Orleans represents one of the happiest moments of my life – our honeymoon – and that in the very places these people continue to suffer lies a small section of my happiness.

And that’s it. Nine. Not ten (plus a handful of honorable mentions) like years past. Just nine.

No Michael Chabon (I found The Yiddish Policemen’s Union to be kind of a drag with a lame-o ending, though I’m excited to see the Coen Brothers treatment). No Special Topics in Calamity Physics (too cute, Marisha) or Divided Kingdom (too forgettable). I didn’t add my McSweeney’s Quarterly Concerns because none of them really stood out.

The problem is that any of those books could have taken the 10th spot, but none of them deserved it. In a year with a higher reading output, I doubt any would make it further than the Honorable Mention, if even. Given more choices, they’d have been pushed down.

It was a down year in terms of reading. But the books I enjoyed, I really enjoyed.

Quality over quantity, right? Have I said that before?


This was lovingly handwritten on December 31st, 2008